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How a Civil Lawsuit Works - Basic Concepts in Civil Litigation

Basic Overview of the Litigation Process

Last Updated: June 1, 2016

Being served a lawsuit can be a scary event for most of us, but it doesn't have to be. If you understand the three basic phases and the two intermediate phases associated with a lawsuit, you will feel more comfortable handling a lawsuit against you or filing a lawsuit against someone else.

Basic Elements of a Lawsuit

The three main components of a lawsuit are:

  1. Complaint.  Plaintiff is stating all the facts regarding his case and the laws that are going to back up his case against the Defendant.
  2. Answer.  Defendant has an opportunity to address each of the Plaintiff's allegations by either admitting, denying, or claiming no knowledge to them and giving no more information than to simply deny what the Plaintiff is claiming.
  3. Trial.  If the case is not settled through arbitration, mediation or settlement conference, the case will then proceed to trial to be heard by a jury of their peers.

The two intermediate phases of a lawsuit are:

  1. Motions. These are made by the Defendant to either dismiss, to strike, or request more information from the Plaintiff to prove his complaint is legitimate.
  2. Discovery. This is where both sides attempt to make a record of the truth through interrogatories, depositions, production of documents, and request for admissions to the court. This is a VERY IMPORTANT aspect of a lawsuit and should be very thorough and comprehensive, winnable cases have been lost due to insufficient or inadequate discovery.

Lawsuits are won by making a record of the Facts and Law during each of the five phases. To win as a Plaintiff, you must meet your burden of proof that the facts and the law in your case agree. To win as a Defendant, you have to prove that the Plaintiff's facts and law DO NOT agree, so that the Plaintiff will not be able to meet his burden of proof.

In a nutshell, the Plaintiff is trying to meet his burden and proof and the Defendant does all that he can do to shoot holes in the Plaintiff's case.

Steps to Navigate Through a Lawsuit

STEP 1:
An incident occurs and a Summons and Complaint is filed by the Plaintiff. The Defendant is served this Summons via a Process Server.


STEP 2:
An Answer needs to be filed by the Defendant. Does the Defendant admit to the allegations?

Yes - Default judgment is granted to Plaintiff. Case is over.
No - A Motion to Dismiss is filed by the Defendant.


STEP 3:
Was the Motion to Dismiss, that was filed by the Defendant, granted by the court?

Yes - If Motion to Dismiss was granted, case is dismissed. Case is over.
No - A Motion for Judgment on the pleadings or a Motion for Summary Judgment can then filed by either the Plaintiff or the Defendant.


STEP 4:
Was the Motion for Judgment on the pleadings or the Motion for Summary Judgment granted by the court?

Yes - The Judgment was granted to the moving party. Case is over.
No - Proceed on to next step.


STEP 5:
Now we are in the Discovery phase of litigation. Depositions are taken, interrogatories obtained, and production of any documents are completed during this period. A pretrial conference is held. At this conference, was a settlement reached?

Yes - Settlement agreement is drafted. Case is over.
No - Proceed on to next step.


STEP 6:
Case now moves to trial and a date is set. At trial, jury selection takes place and the Plaintiff then presents his case. After the Plaintiff rests, the Defendant can file a Motion for Directed Verdict. Was this motion granted by the court?

Yes - Court grants Defendant the Judgment on Directed Verdict. Case is over.
No - Proceed on to next step.


STEP 7:
Now the Defendant can present their case to the court. After the Defendant rests, the Defendant can once again file a Motion for Directed Verdict. Was this motion granted by the court?

Yes - Court grants Defendant the Judgment on Directed Verdict. Case is over.
No - Proceed on to next step.


STEP 8:
The judge now gives the jury their instructions and the jury is then excuse to begin deliberations. Once the jury has come to a decision, the court is notified and all the parties return to the courtroom. One person from the jury is chosen to read the verdict. The verdict is read to the court and it is recorded.


STEP 9:
Losing Party makes a motion for a new trial. Does the court grant this motion?

Yes - Go back up to Step 5 and start all over again.
No - Case is over.


Now obviously, we have made the above steps very short and sweet and easy to understand. There are so many other nuances within each step we could go on for pages, but, the purpose of this article is to give you a bare-bones understanding of the litigation process.

Please Note: WE ARE NOT ATTORNEYS. If you are being sued, it's ALWAYS a good idea to hire an attorney or get some legal assistance. If you cannot afford an attorney, a lot of people have handled their cases pro per or without a lawyer. Our articles are meant to provide basic information on handling litigation.

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